Opening remarks by Commissioner Dalli on the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030

4 Mar 2021 10:48 AM

Opening remarks given yesterday by Commissioner Dalli on the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030.

"Check against delivery"

Good afternoon.

There are 87 million Europeans who have some form of disability within the EU.

And while the average prevalence of disability among the 16 to 65 year olds stands at 17.9%, the percentage grows to 48.5% for over 65 year olds.

An incidence increase of 270%.

This tells us that we may all have a disability or limitation at some point in our lives.

And such a fact today comes with a number of negative yet preventable consequences.

Indeed, these 87 million European citizens:

And protecting the rights of persons with disabilities is our priority thus and we must continue to address these challenges head on.

Today we are presenting a new Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for the years from 2021 to 2030.

Regardless of gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, age or sexual orientation, persons with disabilities should be able to participate in society on an equal basis with others.

That means having equal access including to education, employment, healthcare, our democratic systems, and justice.

That also means they should be able to decide where, how and with whom they live, as well as being able to move freely in the EU regardless of their disability.

Delivering on the actions in the strategy will require everyone's commitment.

The Commission does not have the power to enact these changes alone.

By ratifying the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, the EU and all Member States have already committed to concrete actions to continue breaking down barriers, ensuring equal access and combating discrimination.

Over the past ten years, the previous European Disability Strategy brought improvement.

An important milestone was the adoption of the European Accessibility Act. 

The European legislation ensures that key everyday products and services are accessible, so that they can be used by persons with disabilities.

I am thinking, for instance, of phones, computers, e-books, banking services and electronic communications.

Our new strategy builds on the progress achieved so far and scales up European action.

EU rules on accessibility exist in areas where the EU has competence, and we work with Member States on their implementation.

A European resource centre, AccessibleEU, will be launched next year.

It will lead to common European efforts to improve accessibility. 

Through the new strategy, we are taking action on 3 main themes.

For persons with disabilities to:

So the first theme is EU citizenship rights, which include voting and freedom of movement.

The right to vote and to stand as a candidate for the European Parliament elections and municipal elections when living outside of one's home country are rights guaranteed by EU law.

In practice though, persons with disabilities face difficulties in exercising these rights due to limited accessibility, or due to restrictions in their legal capacity.

National rules deprive 800 000 EU citizens with disabilities of the right to participate in European Parliament elections, justifying this exclusion on the basis of disabilities.

The strategy works towards ensuring that persons with disabilities can enjoy their right to participate in the electoral process.

Living and working in any country in the EU is one of the four fundamental freedoms.

Persons with disabilities must effectively enjoy this right, regardless of their personal situation.

Building on a pilot project in 8 countries, the European Commission will propose a European Disability Card recognised by all Member States, which will make it easier for people with disabilities to make use of their right to move freely.

The Strategy's second theme is about having a decent quality of life and living independently.

Today, many adults and children with disabilities continue living in institutions.

And only 50% of persons with disabilities have a job, compared to 75% of persons without disabilities.

Everyone has the right to make choices about where and with whom to live.

The European Commission remains committed to fulfil our obligation to ensure independent living by fighting segregation and supporting community-based living.

The Commission will issue guidance to Member States on independent living and inclusion in the community.

We will also work with Member States to launch an initiative to improve the quality of social services and to ensure better labour market outcomes for persons with disabilities.

The third theme of the strategy is about being free from discrimination.

Today, more than half of all persons with disabilities feel discriminated against.

Equal access to justice, education, sport, tourism, health services and employment is a right.

Children with disabilities need to learn and develop their potential on an equal basis and together with other children, including and importantly, I would say, during early childhood education.

There is a crucial need for action as one in five young people with disabilities leave school early, compared to one in ten of those without disabilities. Fewer learners with disabilities complete a university degree.

Inclusive classrooms are the building blocks for an inclusive society.

The European Commission will support Member States to develop inclusive schools.

During the pandemic, we realised more than ever the importance of equal access to health care.

Four times more persons with disabilities report unmet healthcare needs than those without disabilities.

The Commission will issue guidance on access to healthcare based on inclusive, accessible, person-centred healthcare, and free and informed consent.

The Commission and EU Member States must work hand in hand to reinforce actions for persons with disabilities.

We will set up the Disability Platform to strengthen cooperation to implement this strategy and the UN Convention.

Member States must make appropriate use of EU funds, in an inclusive manner.

The rights of persons with disabilities do not end at Europe's borders, with this strategy.

The EU will reinforce its role globally as an advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities.

This is in line with the human rights-based approach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The EU will use instruments such as technical assistance and financial programmes, support via EU delegations, political dialogue, and work in multilateral fora to support partner countries in their endeavours to implement the UN Convention.

Finally, with this strategy we will:

We will not introduce changes for persons with disabilities without their involvement.

Our goal is to bring positive change in the lives of persons with disabilities in the EU and beyond.

We must ensure their rights and achieve a union of equality.

Let us use the current crisis as an opportunity to build a fairer society for all.

The EU must become a common area of respect and equal opportunity and the strategy is a key development in that direction.

Thank you.

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Katarzyna KOLANKO

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